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Lincolnshire library campaigners could launch council legal action

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: December 06, 2013

Carrying the fight:    Library protesters outside Lincolnshire County Council, which this week rubber-stamped plans to turn  30 libraries into volunteer-run 'community hubs' Picture: John Jenkins

Carrying the fight: Library protesters outside Lincolnshire County Council, which this week rubber-stamped plans to turn 30 libraries into volunteer-run 'community hubs' Picture: John Jenkins

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Campaigners have vowed to continue the battle to save Lincoln's threatened libraries and could launch a legal challenge to contest the decision.

The nine members of the Lincolnshire County Council executive committee rubber-stamped plans to turn 30 libraries into volunteer-run 'community hubs' this week.

But campaigners are refusing to give up the fight to have them run by professional staff and say the ruling could leave the council open to a legal challenge with a judicial review.

A number of critics believe the council's decision does not follow government guidelines, which state that paid staff should not be replaced by volunteers. Lincoln Independent councillor Steve Palmer warned: "This plan fails to respond to the public demand of a professionally-led service.

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"It also fails to meet the Trades Union Congress and government guidelines. This is not a comprehensive service."

The TUC and Volunteer England have issued guidelines on the use of volunteers in place of paid staff and Palmer added: "The agreement clearly says that volunteers should not replace staff. The definition seems to hinge on whether or not the staff were being made redundant anyway."

The council has yet to reveal how many library staff will lose their jobs following the vote to get rid of 30 libraries.

A number of anti-closure groups around the country have successfully obtained judicial reviews when councils have attempted to hand libraries over to volunteers – a programme that is part of Prime Minister David Cameron's 'Big Society'.

Rosie Kirk, Labour councillor for Birchwood, insisted the fight would go on.

She said: "I think it is a disgrace that the county council voted to close more than 30 libraries. We are going to carry on campaigning. We will see what we can do as far as the next step is concerned.

"We are not going to give up. The consultation plan was flawed. I cannot understand why they keep saying Tier Three and Four libraries are non-statutory and are to be 'community hubs'.

"They cannot just redefine libraries as non-statutory. It is quite emotional and unbelievable that they have done this. It is shameful."

A proposal, put forward by Palmer's wife Pauline, was rejected by the executive committee for a number of reasons. But had it been adopted, all libraries would have remained staffed.

Lincoln Independent leader Marianne Overton added: "Pauline's proposal was so obviously the right one. It makes the savings and keeps the libraries open with a secure professional core around which volunteers could muster.

"The executive, by deciding as they have, have missed an opportunity to have a better service than a volunteer model but have just confirmed, what most people suspected all along, that this was a done-deal."

Councillor Nick Worth Executive Member for Libraries, defended the decision, saying: "We are likely to end up with even more static libraries than we started with.

"The Council has also extended its deadline for expressions of interest, giving people until the end of January to put in a bid for their local library.

So far there have been more than 25 'Expressions of Interest' in running threatened libraries as 'community hubs'.

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  • cplrc  |  December 07 2013, 10:43AM

    Pete67 --- Council taxes will be used to fund the reduced library service. The council argue that this meets their legal obligation; response to the consultation suggests the public do not agree. The Secretary of State has a legal duty to intervene if advised that the council are failing in their statutory duty, but recent history does not encourage me to think that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would advise that Lincolnshire is failing in its duty; I wonder how a court would judge the matter.

    Rate   3
  • Pete67  |  December 07 2013, 7:56AM

    cplrc - - - Surely if something is no longer considered part of the service provided the council will be obtaining money under false pretence in charging for it.

    Rate   2
  • cplrc  |  December 06 2013, 3:25PM

    Redefining some branches as "non-statutory" means they will no longer be considered part of the service provided under the 1964 Act. It implies that the council regards the remaining libraries as sufficient to fulfil the Act's requirements of a comprehensive, efficient and largely free library service. If your residence/place of work/college is no longer served by a statutory library service, you should be thinking of suing the council for its failure to provide what you want - it will not be able to argue in its defence that you have access to a Tier 3 or Tier 4 service, since these will by definition not be counted.

    Rate   3